Published 03rd December 2020 | News

Top 5 reasons for your dog to limp

reasons for dog to limp

Why is my dog limping? Diagnosing any kind of illness or condition in a dog is made more difficult by the always present communication issue. In simple terms, your dog can’t tell you where it hurts.

They may seem under the weather, off their food and more listless than usual, but the bad news is that they can’t explain exactly why they’re feeling less than 100%. One of the more obvious problems may seem to be when your dog is limping, but even though it’s obvious they have a painful issue with one of their legs, the precise cause of the limp can be hard to pin down. If your dog has suddenly stated limping quite badly, the chances are that it’s been caused by a specific injury or trauma. A longer-term limp which emerges gradually, on the other hand, is more likely to be happening due to an underlying condition. The difference between the two, and in particular in the treatment which may be needed, is just one reason why limping in a dog shouldn’t be ignored, and why the advice of a vet needs to be sought as quickly as possible. 

In general terms, the five most likely reasons for your dog to limp are as follows:

An injury to the paw

Any injury to your dog’s paw can cause a limp, but particular discomfort is likely to be caused by a foreign object – such as a piece of glass, stray nail or thorn – finding its way into one of the pads. Not only will this hurt, but it could also lead to infection if left untreated, as could a tear in the pad caused by walking on a rough surface. Another sign that your dog has something in their paw, besides the limp itself, is if they constantly lick the paw in question. 

As well as a damaged pad a limp may be caused by one of your dog’s nails having become caught in something and being torn off. The discomfort this can cause, coupled with the risk of further infection, is another reason why you should keep your dog’s nails trimmed.  

Elbow and Hip Dysplasia

The most notable aspect of both elbow and hip dysplasia is that many dogs will spend their entire lives living with the condition without experiencing any pain. If your dog has dysplasia which is becoming a problem then, as well as limping, they are likely to exhibit symptoms such as walking more slowly than usual and whining in pain. Both elbow and hip dysplasia need to be diagnosed by a vet using x-rays, and with the right treatment even dogs with fairly severe elbow or hip dysplasia can live normal, happy lives.


Panosteitis is often shortened to Pano, and is a condition which impacts many larger breed dogs and puppies. It helps to think of it as the kind of ‘growing pains’ that can inflict younger children going through a growth spurt, and it usually effects dogs aged between 5 and 18 months. The cause of the bone inflammation has never really been established, and the limping it causes can switch from one leg to another. In most cases, Pano is short-lived, although it sometimes lasts for several months, and the only ‘treatment’ is to provide pain management until the phase passes.    

Muscle Sprain or Tear

Just like people, dogs can overwork or twist a muscle resulting in a strain or tear. One of the most common forms of this type of injury is a tear of the cranial crucial ligament attaching the femur to the tibia. In layman’s terms the femur is the ‘top’ bone in a dog’s leg, attached to the hip, while the tibia is the lower bone. A cranial crucial ligament tear of this kind can be caused by an activity but can also be the result of longer-term changes in the ligament, making some breeds of dog (such as Labradors and Rottweilers) more prone to this type of injury. An injury of this kind is both very painful and serious, and requires immediate attention from a vet, who may recommend TLPO surgery to alleviate the problem.  

Bone Cancer

In some cases the lameness in your dog may be caused by bone cancer, also known as osteosarcoma. The sooner this condition is diagnosed the better, as even small tumours can cause a significant degree of pain whilst still being difficult to detect without the use of an ultrasound or MRI scan. It should also be noted that cancers of this type can spread extremely quickly in a dog, so a swift examination and diagnosis is imperative in order to secure the most positive prognosis.   

If you think your dog is suffering, it’s a good idea to get him or her checked out by your local vet. They can then refer onto a specialist if required.

Here at East of England Veterinary Specialists, we are an independent veterinary referral practice, established by orthopaedic specialists Martin Owen and Mark Bush. We stand for experience and expertise and we are among the most highly qualified and experienced orthopaedic surgeons in the country. We offer a comprehensive range of orthopaedic services, with care being our priority, in our animal hospital in Wimpole, South Cambridgeshire. 

Being a referral only practice, we must receive a referral from your local vet. It is important to remember that who treats your pet, is your choice. 

To have your pet referred to East of England Veterinary Specialists, simply pass on our details to your local vet.

East of England Veterinary Specialists
43 Cambridge Road

Phone: 01223 795023 


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